Virgin River’s Jenny Cooper on Juggling Motherhood with Acting
by Arianne Granada
You might see her as a familiar face on television.
Jenny Cooper has played prominent roles in crowd-favourite shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Open Heart, 24, Law and Order True Crime: The Menedez Murders, Scandal, NCIS, and CSI: Miami. Currently, she is starring as Joey Barnes in the Netflix series Virgin River, which is based on the long-running series of novels by New York Times bestseller Robyn Carr.
When she’s not starring on Virgin River, Jenny Cooper is raising her three kids in Los Angeles with her husband. We had the chance to talk to Jenny about how she balances work and family life, and she gave us some pretty insightful tips for anyone else trying to figure out how to do it all.
Tell us a bit about your character in Virgin River.
Joey is Mel’s older, protective sister who, when the series started, seemed like she had it all together and was there mostly to support Mel. But we have seen through subsequent seasons that she was hiding a lot from her sister, including the state of her marriage.
Virgin River has tackled issues like postpartum depression, cancer, sexual assault, pregnancies at an older age, grief, and domestic violence that many women and parents could relate to. Do you think this openness and honesty to real-life situations contributed to the show’s success?
It’s so hard to say what contributes to any show’s success or failure. In our case, it feels like it was the right show at the right time. There’s so much unrest in the world right now, I think our audience wants to believe that a place like Virgin River actually exists, with people who are kind and generous towards one another. And it seems like the larger issues that are tackled in the show work in part because of the beautiful performances of the cast, because of the love people have for these characters, and, as you said, because many of us have experienced these kinds of challenges, so it’s always inspiring to see someone work through a dark time and come out on the other side.
Joey is Mel’s sister and go-to person for advice. What can you say about their sisterly love and how do you think they maintain their strong bond despite their distance?
I think they have the kind of relationship where they are always at the forefront of each other’s minds. In the beginning, it felt like Joey always took care of Mel, but we have definitely seen plenty of examples of Mel being by her sister’s side when she needs her as well. They have that sibling bond where they pick up in the middle of a sentence, no matter how much time has gone by, and I don’t think the distance has made them less close. If anything, they are able to appreciate their time together more, now that they live in different cities. I love that even when they each get wrapped up in their own lives, if one of them needs the other, they drop everything and are there in a heartbeat.
Your character had a big contribution to Season 3’s cliffhanger. What can we expect from the baby’s paternity and Joey’s part in the situation?
Ha, well, I actually didn’t know that scene was going to lead to the season three cliffhanger! And it’s probably better that I didn’t know…I honestly thought we were just having a heart-to-heart and Joey was letting Mel know that she had options if she couldn’t have a baby with Jack. Seemed like innocent sisterly advice at the time, and then…not so much. The paternity issue is definitely a big factor in season four and will continue to test Jack and Mel…but I’m always rooting for them to have their happy ever after.
In the show, Joey Barnes is also a mother and is dealing with long-distance with her sister. How similar is Jenny Cooper from Joey Barnes?
Oh very much. My sister is my number one go-to for advice and support…it’s the single most important relationship in my life outside of my marriage and kids. I also happen to have the world’s best, smartest, wisest older sister. She’s really the gold standard and I kind of just try to channel her as Joey.
Will we be able to meet Joey’s children in Season 4? Are there plans for her to move to Virgin River post-divorce?
I think it would be really fun to meet Joey’s kids at some point. As far as moving to Virgin River, the writers seem to like the long-distance dynamic between Joey and Mel, allowing them to visit each other, which gives their time together a sense of urgency. But I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to trying it out — Joey would definitely be a fish out of water there, which could be fun.
Your scenes in Virgin River are set in Los Angeles but are actually filmed in Vancouver. As someone who was born in Toronto but lives in LA, what’s it like to be back in Canada but be apart from your children?
Being apart from my family is really hard for me, but I have a great support system at home with my husband, as well as our parents, who help out when I’m travelling for work. I have filmed on location quite a bit since having children and I think they’re sort of used to it. When I’m not with them, I feel like I’m missing a limb, but they stay in their usual routine and that seems to work better than dragging them back and forth, which I have also tried! And the VR team has been extremely accommodating — they tend to shoot scenes from multiple episodes at a time to limit the travel for me, which I really appreciate.
Like your character, you have three children and two of them just turned 10 recently. How has parenting changed for you as your kids grow older — especially now that they’re a few years away from being teens?
Every stage of parenting has its unique set of challenges and rewards. For me, the biggest challenge has always been how close all my kids are in age! I have a twelve-year-old son and ten-year-old boy/girl twins…it used to be complete chaos and has definitely settled down since they were babies. I love watching them become more self-sufficient and grow into who they each are as unique individuals.
At the same time, I struggle with letting them go, letting them make some of their own decisions (and mistakes), navigating their own friendships and relationships with teachers and coaches, but I know they need to learn to communicate for themselves…I think it’s a mother’s instinct to want to smooth everything over for their kids so they avoid rough patches. But I have really noticed that the rough patches help them develop character and resilience. My favorite ever parenting quote is “Don’t prepare the path for the child. Prepare the child for the path.” And as they get older, I always have their mental health in mind and want them to know even if/when they make mistakes, big or small, home is a safe place and their dad and I will always be here to help them regroup.
How do you balance work life with parenting life?
It’s a constant challenge — one that I definitely have not figured out yet. I know people/moms who compartmentalize a lot better than I do. I carry a silly amount of guilt around when I’m at work that I’m not with my kids and vice versa. But I do my best to juggle. I think moms, as a group, need to give themselves a break and a giant pat on the back, more than we do.
Would you like your children to follow the same path of acting and/or writing as you?
I would like them to find what they love and follow that path, wherever it may lead. I don’t see any of them leaning towards acting or writing at the moment, but you never know!
Your kids are turning teens in a few years, what are you looking forward to in their adolescent stage?
I look forward to being there for them as they start to figure out who they are and realize some of their dreams. Also, I hope to be a sounding board for them as they go through some of the trials and tribulations that go along with being a teen…my kids are all really good communicators and I hope that continues, though I have heard it can shut down quite a bit. I also look forward to watching them lean on each other somewhat. Right now, they still compete for attention constantly, but I think they will come to value each other’s experiences in junior high and high school and look to each other for advice.
What are your tips to parents that are struggling with juggling their professional careers with their personal lives?
It sort of comes back to what I said before. Parents, myself included, are really hard on themselves these days. There is no perfect solution or perfect balancing act — it’s just doing the best you can every day. Raising humans is hard work, the world is kind of scary right now, and that’s challenging for them and for us. If your child feels safe and loved when he or she puts his head down for the night, you’re doing great.